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 Susan Miller-Havens  (1944 - )

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New Jersey      Known for: painting-portrait, figure, animal

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Susan Miller-Havens
An example of work by Susan Miller-Havens
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted April 2004 and updated January 2006, is from the artist whose website is

My painting is an emotional response to color, light, and human experience. From a very early age I found my reaction to the world around me divided between a fascination with the inner workings of the mind and the aesthetic beauty of nature. Pursuits of both these interests are reflected in my work as I moved back and forth between the two over time.

I was raised in a community with easy access to New York City and with family and friends committed to museum work, so I took for granted the visual feasts routinely afforded me. I was discouraged from making a career in painting and took a more practical route in nursing and then psychology, maintaining a practice of psychotherapy for 20 years and receiving a doctorate from Harvard University in Human Development.

Nonetheless, I was never content without painting. In mid-career I was able to address this problem seriously by attending Wellesley College while working in a clinic part time. Wellesley's rigorous art history requirement along with the advent of the studio major served to solidify my previous exposure to the actual making of art. This enrichment combined with studio instruction from two distinctly different artists, landscape artist James Wilson Rayen and watercolorist Richard Yarde, set the stage for where I find myself today.

My painting reflects both classical and abstract orientations. I try to combine the use of line to define space with an understanding of color field painting and previous experience as an abstract landscape painter. My representation of the figure has been informed by a knowledge of anatomy and psychology gained through careers in surgical and psychological fields. I like to think that I paint from the inside out. The transition from color field painting to figure was made when a colleague reminded me that baseball players wear white uniforms. This enabled me to bring the figure back to my painting while continuing to study the interactions of whites. At the same time the contemporary combats played out between men in athletic competition have lent themselves to my goal of using art to remark publicly on the some of the complexities of life and our culture.

For ten years I was interested in the images found in baseball, basketball, and football. I believe that these figures echo the Greek interest in the body and athletic games. The catchers' protective equipment in baseball, the helmets in football, and the physical height of the players in basketball recall the warriors, gladiators, and vikings of years gone by thus visually uniting the past with the present. More immediately I view sport as a metaphor for American life.

I try to place the images in time that is ambiguous, thus asking the viewer to imagine what has or will happen. I mean to paint facial expressions that will evoke a response in the viewer. This attempt to use images as a way to set up tension on the picture plane I owe to Tissot, Manet, Renoir, Pollock, and the art of photography.
I want the viewer to see what I have seen, to think about the person and their situation rather than let pure representational poses close down possibilities. To this end, the majority of my portraits are not frontal. My backgrounds are devoid of objects so as to force the viewer to pay attention to what is going on in front of them.

The new body of work, "Women's Best Friends", begins with the relationships between women and their often beloved dogs. Later paintings in the series will concern themselves with the relationships amongst women and some of their other best friends, both men and women. Rendered in the same palette as my earlier paintings, once again the viewer is invited to reflect on the person and his or her situation through the immediacy of the images.

Technically I remain challenged by the color white. In terms of representing light I use both traditional and modern techniques, either underpainting and / or pigment applied directly on the canvas with a palette knife. I was trained in both direct and indirect painting. I am a colorist at heart, using color to create both psychological and geometrical depth. Delacroix, Goya, and Matisse are amongst my influences.

Borrowing then from both the representational and abstract schools of painting, I am attempting to set up artistic problems to solve that combine images and painting techniques from the past with the present, that define space through unexpected uses of color and line, that generate for the viewer a sense of subtle psychological ambiguity and timelessness, that comment on human interaction.

2000 Prize winner, The Adam East Museum and Art Center, Washington
1999 One of Ten Winners, Art Calendar Magazine National Contest

2002- Member Advisory Council Department of Arts in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge Massachusetts
2000 Inducted into National Association of Women Artists, New York City

The National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian Institution - Washington D.C. The Permanent Collection

2003 The City of Cambridge - Cambridge, Massachusetts
2001 The Harvard Graduate School of Education
2000 Boston, Massachusetts - The Phelps Collection
1998 Miami, Florida - Private collection
1994 New York, New York - The Special Needs Clinic Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following was published in the South End News (Boston, Massachusetts):

You Don't Have to Love Dogs to Love Miller-Havens

South End News - March 11 p. 25

by D O Lynne Plummer, contributing editor

Gestures and body language isolate brief moments in time. The environments are hushed with primarily solid backgrounds and diminutive distraction, the quietude giving primacy to psychology. "Women's Best Friends #10" is unique from the other 13 paintings in the exhibit, showing a woman (back to) driving with her dog in the passenger's seat, extending only so far as to see their shoulders and heads.

Purposefully intimate, the paintings put a tight perspective on their subject matter, showing just enough information to reveal the pact between friends.

Rendered in the same palette as her earlier paintings of local figures and sports stars, these works draw the viewer to reflect only on the immedicacy of the images. The artist's technique is one that keeps the images moving and twisting in front of the viewer. One can feel the way a young woman's shirt pulls up off her hips as she holds her Pug closely. Light is cast strongly on the backs of both beasts and women, creating playful chiaroscuro on the canvas, wood, or clayboard surfaces. Surrounded in Dutch black maple frames, the paintings convey a poignancy, taking the relationships seriously. The pets are not peripheral inclusions, nor are these dog portraits. Miller-Havens gets into the soul of her subjects

Any frequenter of Cambridge City Hall has seen the work of local artist Miller-Havens. Unveiled on December 11, 2003, her commissioned portrait of former Mayor Alice Wolf hangs on the second floor. Harvard staff and students may be familiar with her commissioned portrait of the dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jerome Murphy, which hangs along side portraits of the previous deans in Longfellow Hall. Sports fans may be most interested in her stunning portraits of sports legends such as baseball great Carlton Fisk (entitled "Ode To Manet"), now part of the permanent collection in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Animals lovers, however, should pop into the exhibition for Miller-Havens new body of work, "Women's Best Friends" on view until Mar 27. Speaking to the relationship between women and their beloved canines, the show is not exclusive to those who can relate. Regardless of the subject matter, works that express authentic feeling with artistic mastery are universally alluring.

In many of her portraits, both dog and master sit with their backs to us in an attempt to avoid purely representational poses. The relationship between the women and their pets is implied through subtleties and nuance.

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